At the heart of any viable solution to the present conflict in the Middle East lies the issue of full national rights and statehood for the Palestinian people. Peoples and governments worldwide increasingly recognize this fact.

Efforts to deny them their statehood rights by military means, as is now occurring, will bring no resolution to this conflict. Only a negotiated settlement that guarantees the formation of a Palestinian state and allows the Palestinian people to live in dignity will draw down the curtain on the present crisis.

One would think that this lesson should have been learned by political leaders in Tel Aviv and Washington by now, but the brutal occupation by the Sharon government and its endorsement by the Bush administration belie such a view.

Supposedly, the invasion of Palestinian territories is meant to uproot and destroy the infrastructure of terrorism. According to Sharon’s spokespeople, the siege and occupation of every major city in the West Bank and Gaza, the mass arrests and interrogations, the political assassinations and summary executions, and the daily humiliations experienced by Palestinian people are a necessary response to the suicide bombings.

Yet a different picture is emerging that clearly reveals that the Sharon government’s military offensive has more fundamental objectives.

Rather than being a protective measure against terrorist attacks, operation “Defensive Wall” (as it is cynically called by the Israeli military), is designed not to uproot terrorism, but rather to uproot the Palestinian Authority and strangle the national aspirations of the Palestinian people, turn Palestinians into an abject and easily exploitable workforce, and expand the territorial boundaries of the state of Israel.

Former Carter foreign policy advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski – no left-wing analyst – makes precisely this point in a recent New York Times article: “Mr. Sharon’s retaliation over the last year has focused largely on undermining the existing Palestinian Authority, much in keeping with his decade-long opposition to the Oslo peace process and his promotion of the colonial settlement in the West Bank and the Gaza.”

Echoing the same point, a Palestinian leader is quoted in The Economist as saying that the Sharon military offensive aims to rid from Palestinian consciousness “the symbols of an independent Palestinian state.”

Some even go further, claiming that Sharon, if he had his way, would like to ethnically cleanse a “Greater Israel” of the Palestinian people. According to Sharon biographer Uri Avnery, Sharon’s maximum program is to “exploit a war situation or a world crisis to expel all Palestinians (including those who are Israeli citizens) from the country.”

This is not a new policy; sections of the Israeli ruling circles have harbored this ambition since Israel’s founding decades ago.

What is new is the political climate in the world in the wake of Sept. 11, hence the Sharon government’s attempt to achieve this ambition by military means at this moment.

Further aiding Sharon’s policy are the suicide bombings, which are not only morally indefensible but also in some instances have been carefully timed to disrupt any movement toward a negotiated settlement and an end to the occupation.

Up until a week ago, the Bush administration publicly endorsed and financially and militarily underwrote Israel’s aggression while scathingly condemning Yasir Arafat.

But as anger with the Israeli military offensive reached new levels in the Middle East and worldwide, and as it became obvious that the offensive might interfere with the Bush administration’s own plans of military aggression against Iraq and of global domination, Bush’s aides decided that a policy adjustment was necessary.

How substantive these changes will be is not clear. It is clear, however, that the Bush administration will be neither a neutral nor disinterested broker of peace, much less a champion of Palestinian rights.

Thus, it is imperative that the international community assume, if necessary, a mediating role in negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, not Bush and his gang of military adventurists.

This administration, much like previous ones going back to Israel’s founding in 1948, has closely allied itself with the Israeli government. How do we explain this?

First, we should dispense with the notion that U.S. imperialism’s support for Israel was ever predicated on a notion of Israel as an island of freedom surrounded by a sea of autocratic states, or on some eternal concern for the Jewish people.

In fact, the U.S. ruling class, and especially its most reactionary sector, has always been riddled with anti-Semitic attitudes, and its alliances worldwide are deeply embedded in its political and economic interests, nothing else.

Israel is considered a strategic and reliable ally in a region of the world that was and is politically volatile and absolutely vital economically to the interests of the transnational corporations and U.S. imperialism. To put it differently, the immense reserves of oil, the strategic role that oil occupies in the political economy of U.S. capitalism, and U.S. imperialism’s geopolitical interests in the region have driven our policy vis-à-vis Israel for the past half-century.

For these reasons, the United States has extended political, economic, diplomatic and military aid to Israel for more than five decades. Nearly $4 billion, mainly in military aid, goes to Israel each year, allowing it to equip itself with one of the most modern and powerful armies in the world, complete with nuclear weapons.

Successive administrations in the White House have winked at the expansionist tendencies of the Israeli government, which inevitably come at the expense of the homelands of the Palestinian and other Arab peoples.

This symbiotic embrace of U.S. imperialism and an expansionist Israeli state has not only brought unrelieved oppression of the Palestinians, but also war and insecurity to both the Palestinian and Jewish peoples.

To think that the current military offensive and occupation will bring anything different is reckless folly. What it won’t do is crush the spirit of resistance of the Palestinian people. Like oppressed peoples in other parts of the world, they will resist no matter how difficult the struggle, and until justice is won.

The eruption of violence, and especially state-sponsored violence, in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict carries with it both the danger of a wider war and, paradoxically, some new opportunities for a just settlement of the crisis. The new peace plan of the Arab League, the unity of the Arab peoples and states, and the growing worldwide call for an end to the military occupation and a two-state solution may finally create the conditions for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. The people of our country have to weigh into this process.

The author can be reached at swebb@pww.org

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